Once again it seems that the customer is being baffled by the industry pundits and the vendors. PDM (product data management) has given way to the new invention of the industry analysts, CPC (collaborative product commerce). Most vendors not wishing to appear out-of-date have put out several CPC announcements while the existing software hasn’t really changed yet – other than in the detail. New products from PDM software giants PTC (Windchill) and SDRC (Accelis) are leading the CPC charge and legacy integration with the ‘old’ PDM world has been recognised and productised with Info Engine (PTC), Accelis (Metaphase) and Adaplets (MatrixOne). Add to that the enterprise software (ERP) vendors thinking they have the expertise to reinvent PDM and you have a bewildering array of choice for the poor customer. When you’re a mid-range manufacturer the thought of the cost involved in implementing PDM (sorry CPC) and ERP can be daunting. It all seems to have started when Dave Burdick, then of analyst Gartner Group and Wayne Collier of DH Brown were vying for acronym supremacy at the beginning of this year. Gartner places PDM software in its CPC category, while DH Brown includes PDM in its product definition and commerce (PDC) software classification. This is trivialising the situation somewhat, but both analysts were expressing the view that PDM was too restrictive a term in this age of globalisation, collaborative engineering and the Internet. The Gartner CPC approach grew out of their c-commerce (collaborative commerce) strategy, which it felt achieved dynamic collaboration amongst employees, business partners and customers throughout a trading community or market. In c-commerce, enterprises harness the full power of the Internet to gain revenue and profit improvement by going beyond rigid supply chain models and simple information sharing. Gartner believes that c-commerce applications will replace static, Web-enabled supply/value chain applications as the dominant application model. Unigraphics has unashamedly adopted the term c-commerce to describe its current application strategy, and it takes the view that it involves global collaboration in designing, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, selling, servicing and updating products. Traditional PDM (iMAN) is just one small part of this strategy. A number of converging technologies have made c-commerce possible. These include high-speed networks, browsers, platform-independent programming languages (like Java), Web URLs, portals and scalable servers. All of these technologies add value to an Internet delivery system and have matured sufficiently to allow a whole new set of applications solutions derived largely from a unique integration of MCAD (mechanical computer aided design), ERP and product data or content management. According to Unigraphics Solutions, “Ultimately, it’s all about exploiting knowledge – the intellectual capital of a company and associated organisations – for competitive gain.” This is all very well but can you see small companies getting to grips with this much technology? Some have been forced to, not as initiators, but as suppliers. The oldest initiative is Ford C3P which requires engineering suppliers to have Metaphase access. This was not particularly successful initially, probably due to the available technology. As web-based solutions appear (including Metaphase’s own Accelis) this trend will gather monmentum and suppliers will have to get up to speed. So who’s doing well? According to Gartner’s Magic quadrants the usual (PDM) suspects are very much in the frame, PTC, Unigraphics, SDRC and IBM/Dassault, with MatrixOne and Agile doing well amongst the independents. All of these companies have firmly established themselves as the primary PDM technology provider of choice within their respective CAD installed bases: in the case of MatrixOne and Agile Software, the technology of choice for heterogeneous CAD installations and electronics industries, respectively. In addition, MatrixOne established itself as the leading CAD-independent PDM system, whereas Agile emerged as a leader in the electronics/supply-chain-centric portion of the market. Gartner believes that PDM applications for managing the internal product development process will continue to be a large opportunity. The surprise in the PDM quadrants is SmarTeam a relatively young CAD-independent PDM company, but one which is aligned very strongly with the new mid-range CAD products like SolidWorks and Solid Edge. Its prominence in the market is largely due to the success of these mid-range CAD offerings and its fairly recent acquisition by Dassault Systèmes, author of Catia. Gartner’s CPC landscape looks a little different, because the qualifications for CPC leadership are more demanding: including annual revenue exceeding $100 million in the CPC market, with 100 or more installations in limited or full production, implemented across an external trading partner network (external users, using the system). Gartner anticipates that by 2002, at least three enterprises (vendors) will have these characteristics and will contend for CPC market leadership. This illustrates how far CPC is currently from being mainstream and that chances are, when it is, it will still be the ‘well heeled’ companies that dominate – not the province of mid-range companies let alone SMEs (small to mid size enterprises). SmarTeam is not featured in the CPC quadrants and yet it has at least one customer with CPC aspirations. The Buhler Group is a leading world-wide supplier of machinery for processing chocolate, pasta, flour and other bulk materials in the food industry. “PDM is a strategic component of our enterprise IT infrastructure,” explains Karlheinz Ribar, project manager overseeing the implementation. “Buhler is building a world-wide collaborative product development system that extends into the supply chain and tracks critical information throughout the product life cycle.” While most vendors take the view that PDM bridges the gaps within and between organisations, and with most vendors producing e-enabled PDM solutions to aid collaborative engineering, the truth is, that there is very little evidence that mid-range manufacturers have gone beyond the management of geometric or CAD data. It is still the major global companies reaping the benefits of these new business-to-business solutions – the likes of Boeing and DaimlerChrysler. According to Alan Griffiths, a well-known PDM/EDM (electronic data management) consultant and now head of Logica’s new c-commerce team, “Many thought that the Internet/www would be liberating for the smaller companies. In fact, with the emergence of commodity and trading exchanges and the need for massive advertising campaigns to get your site known, the opposite is true – the Internet provides a bigger lever for the larger companies – fewer smaller ones will survive. The challenge for smaller companies is to avoid competing at the commodity or trade exchange level and to innovate quickly and respond to the demands of their larger customers. Most companies have very limited capability to collaborate using complex information – as has been shown be recent European studies. If they want to avoid being commodity suppliers, they have to move on with collaboration tools.” One such European study is a project called Widebeam (WIder DimEnsion for Best practice in Engineering And Manufacturing) which examined the potential for SMEs to communicate electronically. Major impediments for this communication were found to be CAD data exchange (between low cost systems) – “still wanting after 20 years” and e-mail itself. Apparently there is still no reliable way of communicating the ‘£’ sign which is a significant dampener to e-commerce – let’s not even think of entering the debate about the euro at this point. As for attachments, receipt was often found to be a matter of luck rather than technology, unless you have an e-mail or networking specialist within your organisation. While electronic communications technology is readily available, its use is limited by the knowledge of its users and the training available. Widebeam will alleviate some of the problems by recommending best practice and warning of pitfalls. Product vendors are advised to look at the day-to-day problems that their software causes the smaller user, and improve usability. Who holds the link to manufacturing? To use the industry parlance, PDM is very design-centric whereas manufacturing is very MRP/ERP-centric. Traditionally, engineering and manufacturing have performed their functions separately, with little contact or co-ordination between them except when drawings are ‘thrown over the wall’ as the product is released to manufacturing. This separation often negates the efficiencies of the computer tools used by both groups. PDM brings tremendous benefits to engineering operations, as does ERP in manufacturing. In most companies information is not passed directly from one system to the other. Rather, manufacturing personnel manually extract the data they need and enter it into ERP. This process is not only tedious and time-consuming but also error-prone. As a result, production operations often begin later than they should and are often delayed further by engineers having to troubleshoot problems caused by incomplete or inaccurate interpretation of engineering data. According to Ed Miller, president of PDM consultancy CIMdata in the US, “Undoubtedly one of the most critical issues facing manufacturing companies today is integrating PDM and ERP: two different yet closely related technologies that are the heart and soul of managing the overall product definition and production life cycles. Companies that succeed in establishing an effective integrated enterprise information environment will prosper while others will not likely maintain their competitiveness.” Tying these two systems together is more complicated than merely plugging one into the other. Each typically has its own data formats, part identification schemes, and different naming conventions. In PDM, for instance, ‘part attributes’ may be the same as ‘material master elements’ in ERP. Large companies (particularly in automotive, aerospace and defence industries) have made considerable investments in linking PDM and ERP. Now SMEs can achieve these levels of integration using linking modules from within their PDM systems. But the technology is not the only issue. According to Cambashi’s Peter Thorne, “The fundamental issue within the enterprise context is ownership of the bill of materials (BoM). This can have a political dimension in organisations where control of the BoM is a real issue. In certain situations a factory manager will not give ground to engineering over the control of the BoM because it affects his capacity to run the factory at maximum efficiency and he’s not prepared to compromise manufacturing to accommodate the whims of engineering.” That old PDM/ERP supremacy chestnut again! Where is all this going? The fashion in the ERP software sector is to talk of supply chain (SC) and customer relationship management (CRM) IT rather than straight ERP. Cambashi promotes the notion of ORP (optimisation of resources and processes – extended ERP encompassing many more business critical applications). Yet again, we seem to be getting overwhelmed by alphabet soup. These days with the plethora of acronyms and the blurring of the boundaries between disciplines, it is difficult to see what each solution is providing. Also the actual requirements differ from company to company. When you are confused by the terms, focus on what you want to do – if you need to manage product data look to PDM – if your CAD supplier also supplies a PDM system you will have less implementation work to do if you go that route. If manufacturing is the driver look to ERP, most ERP vendors also offer supply chain and customer relationship management options – these are logistics issues and ERP vendors have experience in these areas and understand what’s going on. They are less experienced with CAD so examine their PDM offerings very carefully. You will have to face the fact that you probably won’t find all of what you need from one vendor – the trick is to choose the vendor or integrator that can provide the solution that best fits your organisation and allows you to collaborate with your key customers and partners. That way you have fewer implementation headaches and fewer people and things to co-ordinate when it all goes horribly wrong. According to Gartner, “Users need to recognise that the strategic ground underlying PDM has shifted. The fundamental imperative has now evolved from which technology is best suited for managing the design process, to which solution is most appropriate for leveraging product intellectual capital across the emerging e-business landscape. Consequently, users should begin to evaluate vendors and technologies across the more strategic scope of CPC capabilities and relegate PDM to a tactical subset of a broader CPC strategy.”